How To Design And Build A Staircase

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Designing a staircase isn't that simple. You need suitable materials and design to construct a staircase for your home or business property. 

But, you can make it a simple project if you don't forget certain aspects of the build and the makeup to ensure a safe staircase.  

Furthermore, before starting the plan, make sure you know important information such as building in your area or city. As most cities have guidelines on how tall stairs can be, including each step's height, you should look into those before making any plans. 

Besides, you must also understand the different factors that go into building a staircase. Read about the stairs and research on materials and equipment you need to use in the building process. To help you in your project, here's some vital information you might need: 

1. Know The Parts 

Building a staircase without knowing its parts may lead to difficulties because you may not understand its importance.  

Thus, you should know the parts of a staircase. The first one is the foundation, the second is the railing, and the other is the steps. Each part has a significant role. That's why it's essential to study each part and know each one’s general purpose. 

Understanding the foundation is a matter of knowing what design you want along with the material it will require. As this is the part of the stairs where you attach everything else, make sure it's sturdy and well-balanced.  

You can either opt for a staircase that exclusively utilizes stringers for support. The stringers are the long metal pieces or wood found below the steps connecting each of these steps. Having a post along the middle of the stringer will provide extra support, especially for longer stairs. 

The rail refers to the handrails you hold when going up and down the stairs. The design must be able to support the person. When poorly designed, handrails can cause people to fall over to the side. Thus, most houses attach spindles to protect children from falling over. 

Last are the steps. A step can be subdivided into three distinct parts as well: 

  • The first one is the riser; it's the vertical part of the steps that connect to the stringer or the foundation. This determines the height of each step.  
  • Next is the treads, which you step onto. You can customize the length and the width as long as it conforms to building codes.  
  • The last is the extra lip of the treads, called the nosing.  

2. Prepare Materials 

Now that you know the parts of the stairs, you can start your project. Or, if you're hiring a contractor to renovate or construct your stairway, there’ll be no need to prepare materials. This is because most professional contractors have the right tools and safety gear to handle the project. 

However, if you're doing a do-it-yourself project, don't forget the safety gear. As most DIYers neglect these essential gears, most end up in the emergency room due to accidents. Furthermore, when doing the construction, it's essential to pre-saw the materials. 

Most hardware shops offer pre-saw services. Simply have the measurements you want and submit these to their cutting department. You can also hire online designers to make your stair designs and measurements go well with your overall home design.

However, if you want to do it yourself, purchase a handsaw for cutting or a circular saw. Don't forget the measuring devices such as levelers and measuring tapes, as these will prevent uneven surfaces and steps.  

Moreover, purchase screws instead of nails as these can further secure your steps and sometimes prevent cracking of specialty wood.  

3. Calculate Rise And Run 

When you have your tools and equipment, you can start measuring your rise and run. You need to design the correct distance or length of the stairs.  

The right length allows efficient climb to the next floor. That's why it's important to compute the rise and run.  

The rise refers to the height between one level to another. Depending on where you are placing your staircase, the total rise could be long or short. However, that doesn't end there as you’d need to compute each step's rise. This will be important as this will determine the run as well.  

Hence, to compute each step's rise, divide the total rise to your desired height for each step. With it will come the number of steps it will take to reach the maximum rise. However, you might have noticed the resulting number is not a round number. To reconcile the numbers, round up the number, then redivide it with the total rise. The following number you'll see will be the exact rise height for each step. 

You can multiply the number of steps calculated from the rise to the depth for the run. Your personal preference determines the depth. But, remember not to make it too shallow or too deep, and give enough space for your feet to get ample grip on each step.  

4. Cutting The Stringers 

When cutting your stringers, make sure you have enough wood. The wood should be wide enough to be cut into and thick enough to handle the weight.  

You can cut up the stringer for the entire length of the risers. However, for the tread, you won't need to. By simply cutting most of each tread's depth, you create a nosing for each step without the need to sacrifice tread. 

However, before anything else, you should start measuring. Depending on the rise and run of your stairs, measure each cut beforehand to avoid making mistakes during the cutting.  

After you mark your measurements and draw out the results onto the wood, you can set them parallel to one another to see if each side matches.  

If one side doesn't match or a single step is wrong, redo the measurements. This will prevent uneven steps. 

5. Attach The Parts 

All that is left is the placement, which is combining all the parts into a staircase.  

First, mark the stringers' placements and ensure that each is perfectly parallel to the other when placing. Before permanently using screwing and gluing them to each level, use nails to temporarily affix the stringers to prevent them from moving unnecessarily. That's when you can execute the necessary adjustments.  

You should also use the same process when attaching the riser and the tread. Moreover, attach the riser first as it will be difficult to attach the riser after the tread. Unless your design eliminates the use for risers, attach the top and bottom risers first using a nail to see if the stairs are fully aligned. When all alignments meet, you can now permanently screw on each tread. 


When tackling a large project, such as constructing or renovating stairs, it's essential to prepare yourself with the correct information and tools. This will allow you to ensure the work will be up to your standards and that of the city's building code.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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